Monday, December 2, 2013

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah - Hiking

The plan for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was to camp at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and spend the days hiking to some great slot canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  I was particularly interested in hiking to the Golden Cathedral and visiting Kodachrome Basin State Park.  Instead, an early season snowstorm blanketed the Escalante region with over a foot of snow and we were left scrambling for a new Thanksgiving plan.

Keith, Melissa, Katy, John, Jason and I headed down to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park on Thursday morning after seeing that the area was mostly snow-free and camping was still available. We arrived at the nice, and nearly empty, campground later in the afternoon under sunny skies and a comfortable temperature for late November.  After quickly setting up our tents, we headed off to the sand dunes to watch the sun set from the moving mounds of sand.

Footsteps in the sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Keith enjoying the dunes

Sunset at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Sunset at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

The temperature dropped below freezing after sunset but we were able to enjoy a great Thanksgiving dinner around a warm campfire.  Melissa was kind enough to bring a case of Deschutes Jubelale to celebrate the evening.

Katy and John's Thanksgiving Dinner

Jason's Thanksgiving Dinner

Friday morning was frosty and windy as I headed out to the dunes to watch the sun rise.  The sand was really blowing and my face felt like it was being sand blasted as I watched the sun rise over a  nearby ridge.

Blowing sand

Sunrise at the sand dunes

After breakfast, we drove to Zion National Park to do some day hikes and enjoy the warm sunshine for the rest of day.  Upon arrival, we were shocked to see so many people and cars in every direction that we looked.  Apparently, Thanksgiving is popular holiday for people to visit the park and the snow and poor weather conditions across most of Utah probably forced additional people, like us, into the area.  We crammed ourselves onto a shuttle bus and rode to the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the main canyon.  After walking up the riverwalk for a bit (with hundreds of other people!) we decided to walk downcanyon for a while on a less formal trail that followed the Virgin River.  It was more peaceful experience and a good escape from the crowds.  Eventually we hoped onto shuttle bus back to the Zion Lodge and hiked to the Emerald Pools, a popular hike in the park but not particularly spectacular in the evening light of winter.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Virgin River - Zion National Park

After another windy, cold night of camping at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, we headed back to Zion National Park on Saturday for a full day of hiking.  Jason and I hiked to Observation Point since neither of us had done that trail.  Everyone else hiked to Angel's Landing on the opposite side of the canyon.  Observation Point is a great hike that offers spectacular views of main canyon and the surrounding plateaus above Zion, along with glimpses into Echo slot canyon.  After the hike, we met up with the rest of the group at the Zion Lodge and headed back to camp at Coral Pink Sand Dunes for one more night.

 Echo Canyon

 Jason hiking to Observation Point

Hiking to Observation Point

At Observation Point

Jason at Observation Point

View from Observation Point of Zion

There was no wind when I awoke on Sunday morning and the nearby dunes were shrouded in a layer of fog.  The combination of  heavy frost, the shifting fog, and the morning sunlight made for some spectacular photo opportunities.  It was a great morning to be out on the dunes!

Foggy sunrise at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

 Fog and sand dunes

Trees in the fog at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

After breakfast, Jason and I decided to make a quick stop at Bryce Canyon National Park before heading back to Salt Lake.  The fresh snow on the pinkish-red rocks of Bryce is always a beautiful site.  We enjoyed the views from a few lookouts before making the drive back home.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park